The knowledge of your staff brings up an additional consideration: friendliness and fairness. Do you and your employees always maintain a positive attitude when dealing with customers? Even if a tenant is being difficult? If you make an error in dealing with a customer (such as quoting the wrong rental rate, for example), do you honor the mistake even if the result is not in your favor?
There’s an old marketing adage that a satisfied customer will refer you to three future customers, while a dissatisfied customer will tell 10 people your business is no good. There’s no faster way to create negative feelings about your business than to be perceived as being negative or unfair to customers. There are plenty of alternatives.
Another aspect of fairness involves your rental agreement. A well-drafted lease is essential to your business, but is it fair? Can your staff and customers understand it? One way to accomplish this is to rewrite it in plain language and reduce the "legalese" it contains. A complete understanding of the terms of the agreement by all parties leads to fewer disputes.
Think about your customers’ needs. Is your facility well-located? Are your hours of operation convenient? Can customers easily load and unload their goods? Do you provide equipment such as carts and dollies to help them? How about your entry procedure—does it provide security without being too burdensome? Are the facility rules and regulations easy to understand and reasonable?
Have you installed a kiosk that allows customers to rent units and make payments around the clock? People may view renting a storage unit as an inconvenient necessity; you should make their experience as simple as possible.
Providing a variety of unit sizes is another element of convenience. Customers should have the chance to rent the amount of space needed rather than too much or too little. Similarly, offering a variety of products and services is important, too. Do you offer truck rentals and moving supplies? Do you accept deliveries? Do you provide storage for special needs, such as records storage and wine storage?
Another such amenity is climate control. It’s often unwise for customers in certain regions or with certain specific goods to store them where it’s too humid or temperatures are extreme. Of course, installing climate control can be expensive and will incur higher operating expenses; but it also supports higher rents and will attract customers you might lose if you don't offer it.
In a similar vein, have you developed synergies with related businesses that can offer convenience to your customers? A good example might be maintaining a list of trusted moving companies you can recommend. Do you reach out to local landlords to help approach future prospects? How about local retailers who may need extra space periodically and may able to help your customers solve their problems?
This is just a short list of possible ways you can improve your facility and revenue. Implementing some of these strategies can hopefully help you avoid the need to discount your rates to attract business. Making investments in cleanliness, security, convenience and the environment will really pay off down the road.
Bernard Fensterwald is a consulting attorney with more than 25 years of experience. He’s licensed in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. He's also a principal in U-Store Management Corp., a Washington, D.C.-based self-storage company, and a past president of the Washington Area Self-Storage Association. To reach him, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.global-self-storage.com. To read his blog, visit www.fensterwald.wordpress.com .